23-04-2014 13:31 PM | News, Pigs

‘Spy in the sty’ research yields big benefits



Tim Miller, environment specialist with ARM Buildings on a farm which has been evaluating the growth sensor. Pigs walk through of their own free will
Tim Miller, environment specialist with ARM Buildings on a farm which has been evaluating the growth sensor. Pigs walk through of their own free will
A product heralding a major breakthrough in pig management will be launched at the British Pig and Poultry Fair. The In-pen Voluntary Access Scale — a growth sensor — will enable farmers to ‘see’ how their pigs are performing while they are still growing. This revolutionary development will even allow pig producers to record growth rates and feed conversion on a daily — even hourly — basis.

Early results from a £306,000 three-year research project have shown how monitoring growth rates of pigs can be linked to environmental, nutritional and health factors via sophisticated software. This is enabling producers to take strategic management decisions during the growing and finishing period, rather than using historical data.

The consortium of companies involved in the project is Farmex Ltd, Berkshire; ARM Buildings Ltd, Staffordshire and Dicam Technology Ltd, Suffolk, who received a grant from the Technology Strategy Board.

“The development has been described as a ‘real game-changer’ on a par with significant genetic and pharmaceutical advances. It could give British pig producers their best chance since the 1970s of establishing a world lead in sustainable pig production,” said Hugh Crabtree, Farmex managing director.


Key to its success is the growth sensor in the pig pen which continuously records the animals’ weights as they wander in and out of the scales. This is sent wirelessly to the computer network and then to an on-line database. But the big difference between this and other systems — and perch weighers used in the poultry industry — is the integrated link to other monitored and recorded factors such as temperature, ventilation, water and feed consumption.

This constant stream of information will allow daily fine-tuning for optimum pig performance as well as providing invaluable information to nutritional advisers and vets.

“Farmers taking part in the trial have been quick to see the potential and ways of using the system for commercial advantage. We will probably have to issue a second tranche of pre-production prototypes to meet demand,” commented Hugh Crabtree.

“I predict that within five years all farmers with significant numbers of finishing pigs will have a growth sensor in at least one sentinel pen per batch.”

The electronic scale has no buttons or display screen, but just plugs into the data capture network via a wireless link. This enables it to be competitively priced at an anticipated £1,750.

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